Clay Smith and Jake Long had less than three days to rest after returning from the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas before they backed in the box in Fort Worth, Texas, for the WCRA Cowtown Christmas Championships—but that didn’t stop them from winning their performance against well-rested competitors.
Smith and Long were 4.85 seconds to top the Thursday performance, earn $1,600 and a spot in the Showdown Round on Saturday. The No. 2 finish went to Caleb Green and Joe Mattern with a 5.31-second run, which earned them $1,200 and their qualification to the Showdown Round.
For the duo who just returned from 10 nights of gunslinging in Las Vegas, Fort Worth was a breath of relief.
“We got a great start on a good steer,” Long said. “It was just a normal run. Clay stuck it on him, just laid him up in front of me. I heeled him pretty good, but it wasn’t anything crazy—I just caught him. It was a smooth run, so it’s fun when they feel easy.”
Smith and Long made it home on Monday after a trying two weeks in Vegas, and like many contestants and fans, had their families plagued by the infamous “Vegas Crud.”
“My family’s still under the weather,” Long said. “I got sick before they did out there, so I’m just getting over it.”
“My whole family has got it, that’s the reason they didn’t come tonight,” Smith said. “My wife has had like two hours of sleep a night—all three kids have it, so I’m sure I’m going to be next to get it.”
Long was aboard his faithful CJ, who he also used all 10 rounds at the NFR. Smith was on a grey gelding—but it wasn’t his well-known first-string, Marty.
“That’s a 5-year-old horse that I futuritied on last year,” Smith said. “He’s fixing to get a lot of it this year, a little bit more exposure and stuff. I guess, this was the first rodeo I’ve ever rode him at. I could feel him being a little nervous when I rode him there—it was the biggest event he’s ever been to and he saw that crowd. I didn’t get just a great start, but he runs hard and we had a great steer. He’s strong, but he’s easy to handle the steer on.”
Both Smith and Long praised the new setup in Cowtown Coliseum. The arena got a facelift in the Fall of 2022 and now features boxes that are similar to the setup in the Thomas & Mack and no longer have a low-hanging cover that offers opportunities for catching ropes on the first swing.
Long played it smart and nominated the Days of 47 Rodeo in Salt Lake City, where he won third place with Brady Tryan and earned enough points to secure his place in Fort Worth. For Smith, jackpots like The Capitalist offered opportunities to maximize points on a single nomination.
Smith and Long will return to Broken Bow, Oklahoma, and Coffeyville, Oklahoma, respectively, and catch up on sleep before Saturday’s Showdown Round and await their draw to make a plan. They will join Green and Mattern, and the top two finishers from Performance 1, Jay Tittel, Trey Johnson, Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill, and No. 1 seeded team Kaleb Driggers and Junior Nogueira. The remaining Showdown Round spots will go to the top two teams from the Friday, December 16 performance.
As far as strategy goes, the draw will determine the plan on Saturday.
“It’s kind of like playing chess,” Smith said. “Position means a lot. If you’re toward the end, you know exactly what you’ve got to do, but if you’re toward the front you’ve got to just go fast and try not to mess up.”
WCRA Cowtown Christmas Championship Results
Thursday, December 16
- Clay Smith and Jake Long, 4.85 seconds, $1,600 each
- Caleb Green and Joe Mattern, 5.31 seconds, $1,200 each
- Speed Williams and Gabe Williams, 5.82 seconds, $800 each
- Hayden Blevins and Teagan Taylor Roukema, $400 each